Most Read
Most Commented
Read more like this

COMMENT The evening started at 5pm with typical evangelical sessions - one Indian Christian convert, one Chinese Buddhist convert and Fariq Naik (Dr Zakir Naik's son) gave a 30-minute speech on why they converted to Islam and why they think Islam is the only religion that God approves.

There was absolutely nothing new in their speeches and so I was hardly convinced, despite their exhortations to a frenzied crowd.

Now that I've spent some nine hours (yes, through heavy rain and technical glitches with the sound system) with first-hand experience, I can confidently provide my verdict on this evangelist, Dr Zakir Naik, as I was there till 2am the following day.

First the pros:

1) He appears very well read in Islam and Christianity, and quite knowledgeable in Hinduism and Judaism;

2) He is a very charismatic speaker who appeals to the masses, especially to the less initiated who probably don't possess a historical bend;

3) He claims to be a man of science and indeed, his knowledge of science, history and astronomy is very impressive;

4) I swear he has a photographic memory as he was able to spew phrases from the Quran, Bible, Torah and Vedas at ease. I guess his confidence leads no one to counter-check as the person who spotted his 25 factual errors in five minutes and posted it on Youtube;

5) Zakir has a lot of stamina (he was on stage for almost five hours) and did not show any sign of fatigue at all; and

6) He is very persuasive in his arguments and can easily convince those who are in the "half-way" line. For example, he asked all the questioners if they believed that (a) there is one God and (b) if the Prophet Muhammad was the last messenger. When they answered "yes" to both, he declared them as Muslim even though clearly, they were not and had no intention to convert. I believe a few told him this outright when further goaded.

Now the cons:

1) There is no doubt that his lectures are a blatant attempt to convert. Indeed, there were four "instant converts" (an Indian Hindu, a Sarawakian Catholic, a local Catholic and a local Buddhist) during his session. Although these four swore that they were converting freely, their "spontaneity" was a little questionable. In fact, after each question session, Zakir will subtly goad his questioner to convert. Although he openly declared that he is not out there to convert, clearly he aims to do so and Zaid Ibrahim was dead right about his real motive;

2) He has a superiority complex and when his questioner is less knowledgeable, he tends to bully them into submission. To one questioner, Zakir uttered phrases like "your English is no good" and "your knowledge of the Bible is poor" and even "I can't explain to you because your understanding is shallow" and "it's not Crucification but Cruci-fiction";

3) While he outwardly appears to respect other religions and cultures, he used these disparaging words several times in his lectures which shows clearly his inner feelings: "non-Muslims are the enemies of Islam" and "this jumping from one topic to another is a typical Christian weakness/trick" and the more derisive "I'm more Christian than Christians" and he even declared that "Jesus was a Muslim" because Jesus was said to have followed the tenets prescribed in the Quran.

'Answering by not answering'

Never mind the fact that it could very possibly be, that the teachings in the Quran that were codified about 650AD by Uthman, could have been modified or gleaned from earlier scriptures. It must be stressed that Uthman and his team sifted through some estimated 400,000 verses before "selecting" 6,000 to be compiled in the 114 chapters in the Quran. Being a rational person, I'm inclined to believe that not all the 6,000 verses would have been correctly gleaned from the 400,000 estimated original verses;

4) Zakir is a master of "answering by not answering". Unfortunately the bulk of his audience was totally partisan and hence, did not grasp his nuances nor sleight of words. He tends to (mis)lead his audience by playing on emotional and religious sentiments, although professing to be scientific and analytical about his explanations. Admittedly, most of his explanations made sense but some of his reasonings were utter gibberish; and

5) When he cannot answer a question rationally or skewer his response to meet the crowd approval, he shied away with an excuse.

I published three questions that I wanted to ask Zakir so that my audience would know where I was coming from.

My three questions:

i) Can you explain why, if Islam is supportive of it’s ummah, (Surah 3:103), why is it that five of the wealthiest Muslim countries (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar) have not taken in a SINGLE Syrian refugee whereas the kafir countries led by Germany are the biggest recipients? This is from the official records of United Nations.

ii) Why is it that Prophet Muhammad had many wives, documented as 11 (excluding Maria the Copt) at the same time, and possibly slavegirls, but God restricted to a maximum of four to other Muslim men? I find the notion that a specific exemption (Surah 33:50-52) is granted by God to Prophet Muhammad only quite convenient and might I add, incredible. Your comment?

iii) As we can clearly see, the biggest co-existence problems are Muslims fighting Muslims in Muslim countries. And then these Muslims run to kafir countries and cause problems in their adopted countries. Surah 11:118 readily admits that God has made men of differing nations, which I believe means differing religions too. Why then the need, for someone like you, to convert the people of differing religions to Islam?

I started with question No 2 and Zakir spent 20 minutes explaining why the Prophet had 11 wives (I didn't ask why as I knew the answer from reading history) whereas Muslim men were only allowed four.

When I reminded him that I wanted to know how he can prove that Chapter 33:52 was not conveniently inserted to "exempt" the Prophet (from the four wives rule) because afterall, it was a private conversation between the Angel Gabriel and the Prophet in the Hira cave, with no one else present to verify what was exchanged, that are now being claimed by Zakir as the words of God. I thought it was a rather convenient exemption, as I saw it.

Zakir replied that it was a good question and the first reason was because the Quran said so, and so, that was the word of God. He went on to bizarrely justify the paragraphing sequences in the Quran, that he claimed, lent legitimacy to that exemption being placed therein.

Only one question allowed

Then he realised that I wasn't buying it and he took a "thirst quenching" break. While at that, he had a quick chat with the master of ceremonies (MC) who then told the audience that Zakir will come back to respond to my question No 2. For all the others before me, the MC allowed two to three questions per person but my turn was the ONLY time Zakir the break and further, the MC refused to let me ask the other two questions (I'm guessing that he suspected that they would be just as difficult for Zakir to answer). So I'm convinced that he can only match his narrative prowess against people who are less knowledgeable than him; and

6) And the most outlandish gesture that I observed was that whenever a person "instantaneously converted" to Islam, he declared that all his/her past sins as a non-Muslim, were now wiped clean as he/she had now become "a believer" and hence, was sinless as of now. I took it to mean that Zakir is now playing God himself, or maybe he thinks he is now the last Messenger.

The above were my personal observations and I leave it to my readers to assess for themselves, whether this Zakir Naik is a revered preacher or a "snake oil" salesman.

By the way, after asking my question No 2, as I was leaving the stadium, one plainclothes policeman approached me and took down my particulars. He said it was just for record only. I didn't think it was in my interest to make a fuss and so I gave him the details. I think the system was telling me not to push the envelope further.

RAMESH RAJARATNAM believes that we must be able to rationally question the historical norms that have been handed down and decide whether they apply in current times.